5 ways to use your excused absences in law school

By Alexandra Sumner 

When you pay over $200,000 for an education, you better get your money’s worth - or so the saying goes. The subject of several recent warnings and rule changes, law school attendance has gone from, “You’re an adult: Be here or don’t” to “Make sure you pass the attendance sheet around” at the beginning of class.

On the student end, it’s frustrating to be treated like a child - some of us are in our mid-to late-thirties, some have kids and some are just starting out on a second career. It can feel demeaning to be told to sign out to use the bathroom or being told to wait to sharpen our pencil until after class. (Just kidding on that last one, but barely.) 

While I understand why the ABA requires a certain amount of instruction per course hour, I absolutely believe students should take advantage of the number of excused absences each course is allotted - responsibly, of course. Here are 5 ways to productively use your sick days.

1) As an actual “sick” day. An obvious one, I know. When you feel like you can get out of bed and be human for the day — let alone be on call in torts, use your excused absence to rest and recharge. But make sure to keep a stock of vitamin C and basic cold medicines on tap.

 The whole point of the day is to sleep and recover, not to stand in line for the self-checkout at Walmart while you can barely breathe and you have a fever of 103. 

2) To visit family or friends. This might be controversial, but I think it’s more than acceptable to use your excused absences to visit family or friends, attend a wedding or even start a vacation early.

Everyone love to champion the line, Llaw school is a marathon not a sprint,” but part of the expectation of a long race is that you’ll have to take a break every now and then — do it. While law school is important, you can’t put your life on hold because of it. Law school is not a blanket excuse to be a bad son or daughter, nor an impediment to having fun every once in a while. 

3) To go to doctor’s and dentist’s appointments. In compliance law and in life in general, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Prevent more serious issues and emergencies by scheduling and attending regular dentist and doctor’s appointments.

When possible, schedule them before or after class, but if it’s between leaving a dead tooth in your mouth and sitting in another con law lecture, you know the drill. 

$) As a “personal” day. No excuses or justification needed. Take a bath, a nap, even a yoga class. Sometimes all a girl (or guy) really needs is some time off! Law school is very taxing to say the least, and it’s completely reasonable to take some time for self care every now and then. Just don’t make it a habit. 

5) To catch up on reading and assignments. A lot of students do this: They miss class just so they can study for the class itself.

You can always tell which students in the library are supposed to be in a lecture; they take tables near the back of each floor and duck behind a stack of books whenever someone walks by. (Honestly, it’s just easier to go off-campus or use a study room if you don’t want to be seen by your professor.) It may seem to be a risky strategy, but all I’ll say is this: You’d be surprised at how much work you can get done when fueled by guilt. 

Taking time for yourself is important, but so is going to class. The five suggestions above should be used sparingly and strategically, rather than as a blanket “get out of class” tactic. When you’re in class, be mentally and physically present and when you need a break from it all, take it. 

Alexandra Sumner is a recent graduate of Indiana University — Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.